HE Exams Wiki

Here are some case studies of home-educated students with, perhaps, unconventional routes to further- and higher-education and employment. All the cases below are personally known to at least one member of the HE Exams email group as of 2019 and the editors have checked there are no duplications. All names are known to the editors but are generally not reproduced here for privacy. However, some who have featured in newspaper articles etc.. are named.

Some of these students have been academically very successful, but of course, without denominator data, we cannot speculate on what proportion of home-educated students go on to have such success.  What these case studies do show, however, is that being a late reader, having few early qualifications, qualifications taken early or spread out over several years, need not be a barrier to achievement. Of course, offers from top universities are not the only thing which matters - but we have focussed on these because they blow some common myths about home education out of the water.

You will see that many of the students attended sixth form college or school for A-levels, and this reflects the difficulty of taking A-levels and navigating university application from home-ed.  These experiences are still highly relevant as the applicants usually have a different portfolio of GCSE-level qualifications from the average school pupil.  For instance, they might have few GCSEs, or have taken them spread out over several years.  Again, they are important as they show that this need not be a hindrance when applying to university.

Sometimes people contact universities to ask for data on home-educated students.  In the UK, this is unlikely to yield useful information.  Firstly, as most home-ed students enrol in an institution for sixth form, the universities may well have no record that they were home-educated until sixth form.  Secondly, this is not the sort of data that UK universities collect at present anyway.  Therefore, collecting personal stories from the home-ed community is our best option at present.

If you would like to add a contribution to this page, please join the HE-Exams Community.

A-levels at home

Please see the page on A-levels for some case studies.  

Jill Ingle has written a detailed article about her family's experience of home-educating two children through A-levels, just with the internet and textbooks - no correspondence courses, no tutors - and with outstanding results and a lovely family life to boot.  Please see the Ingle_Family story.

University Offers

DC - English at Oxford

It’s been suggested that it might be useful for some to read a little bit about my son’s home ed journey and how’s its ended with him starting at Oxford University next week to study English, and how our shy and slightly scared young boy has become a confident and happy young man.  We started home educating during primary school and at the beginning were fairly structured in our approach, however as the weeks and years went by the structure went out of the window and allowed him the freedom to choose what he wanted to learn and when.

He sat his first IGCSE English Language when he was 14, after having attended one of Dorothy Murphy’s groups, and achieved an A*.  The following year he decided to try some more, so he took 4 and the following year he took another 5, including English Lit again  with the help of Dorothy, ending up with 7A*s and 3As. Taking the exams over 3 years allowed him not only to choose when he thought he was ready to take each exam, but also what order he did them in, leaving maths, which he didn’t enjoy, to the very end.  Doing it this way also seemed to make the task of sorting out all the logistics of sitting exams much easier and less stressful than arranging them all in one year. They were all taken using mixture of small study groups, tutors and self-study with text books and past papers.

He decided that, as he now knew he wanted to look at studying English at Uni, he would like to look at 6th forms for A- levels.  Not once was the fact that he sat his exams over 3 years ever raised as a problem by any of them, and one selective school offered him a place with the 5 results he had already achieved.  We were always positive about the benefits that not having been to school had allowed whilst talking to them. He ended up choosing a school where most 6th form lessons were in the morning, which allowed for loads of time to carry on with all his other interests.

At this stage Oxford, although our “local uni”, had never been mentioned until the school suggested an open day to him, and it soon became his first choice.  He liked the idea of the tutorial system, which fitted perfectly with his way of learning.

The application process is a bit long and him being at school by this point helped, but it’s all on their website and pretty easy to understand as long as you are aware of different deadlines.   He actually enjoyed the interview process, partly because he’s always loved being able to express his opinions and this was something he struggled to do at school.

I must add a big thank you to our local home-ed group and all the wonderful people we met over the years, whose advice and help over the years has been so welcome and at times greatly needed.   

AM - Theology at Cambridge, no previous qualifications, OU points only

Most home-educated students who go to university do so after gaining A-levels or other Level 3 qualifications. Very few manage to do so with no formal qualifications at all. Mr M's story is doubly remarkable as he is severely dyslexic. His mother writes:

My son applied to university with only OU points. My recollection is that it was a bit of a challenge to find exactly where to enter them on the UCAS form but we found it in the end. He also had to send a couple of essays to one of the universities each requiring a front page which had to be filled in by the OU to authenticate them. The OU was very helpful & efficient even working to our tight time constraints. One university actually emailed him to ask if he had forgotten to include his GCSEs on the form!..

He has just graduated (2016) from Cambridge University, in Theology. After his interview they asked him to come back to discuss 'his unusual academic career' as they put it - he hadn't taken any exams at all at that point & had only been studying formally with the OU for about a year. He is also very dyslexic. I am not sure that it is to do with any particular college being HE friendly as he has 2 HE friends also studying at other Cambridge colleges - one studying Linguistics and the other Natural sciences.

He was HE all the way, no school at all. As far as I can remember there was no mention of HE at his interviews (2 panels at 2 different colleges). When they called him back their main concern was his lack of exam experience as exams appear to be a major part of the Cambridge experience, I don't know about other universities. He said there was 25 minutes of 'how can we know you will be able to cope with exams' followed by about 5 minutes of ' & you're dyslexic too so how will you manage the compulsory language element of the course'. He was not very hopeful of an offer after this grilling but obviously gave a good account of himself! I think the additional paperwork Cambridge asks for (samples of essays plus what seemed to us another personal statement type of form) &, of course, the opportunity to speak to them at interview were helpful.He also received unconditional offers from 3 of the 4 other universities he applied to & a very prompt refusal from Durham. We were surprised at how open the universities were to considering his particular circumstances. He had some explanatory communication with a couple of them who wanted some clarification but it was, on the whole, a surprisingly positive experience as I had been really concerned that his refusal to study for IGCSE's & A levels would have stymied any chance of getting into university - it is not a route I would recommend!

Extract from earlier posts to the group, reproduced here with permisson as they are interesting contemporaneous notes:

My son didn't study for any (I)GCSEs or A levels. All of his home-ed friends went down the (I)GCSE route from about the age of 14 & then on to school for A levels. He did dip in & out of various exam groups but only because he would not have been able to see his friends otherwise i.e he treated them as opportunities to socialise not study. He is very dyslexic & didn't really get to grips with reading until he was about 14. Writing was a non starter. He uses a variety of assistive technologies now.

He started studying with the OU last summer with a 10 point general arts course followed by a 60 point level 1 course - The Arts Past & Present, then 2 x 10 point courses - maths & psychology & has just commenced a 60 point level 2 course - Exploring Philosophy.

He has applied to read Theology. The Cambridge college hasn't queried his academic history but it has proved demanding to get the various bits of paperwork (essays, dyslexia assessment, extenuating circumstances form) acceptably authenticated - normally the school would do all of this but we have had to find different people for each bit. He has had so much communication with the admissions tutor that he's probably on her Christmas card list! He has received queries regarding his 'academic status' from the other universities he has applied to, they don't seem to be able to understand the information he put on his UCAS form, however at least they are communicating & haven't dismissed his application out of hand.

With regard to an academic reference we had a specialist teacher (dyslexia) who knew him well although she had not actually worked with him much. The daughter of a friend of mine actually got a reference from one of her OU tutors.

MM - taking American SATs for entry to UK universities

Three of mine have gone straight to university from home...no college or sixth form! We did not do A levels because we preferred the US College Board SAT route. My son is entering third year of a psychology degree at Stirling University, having passed the previous two years on all ones! Two of my daughters are starting this September at different universities, one on an English degree at Stirling, and the other Applied Biology and Zoology at University of the West of Scotland. Being home educated in no way held them back and the UCAS form is easy enough to complete. I have not found universities,  here in Scotland anyway, to look any less favourably on HE students. If they meet the entry requirements, that is all that matters. 

Both my girls took the US College Board SAT, bypassing both GCSE's and College..My daughter was just accepted straight into university to study for an honours degree in Applied Biology and Zoology. Another was accepted for an honours degree in English.  My son did not want to go to college to gain qualifications because he feels passionately about his home education and always knew he had been educated to university standard, so we set about contacting universities of his choice in order to ascertain what was required for entry. They all said they would accept US college board SAT scores and so we worked towards that. This is a much cheaper option as it does not require individual exams but rather one exam testing, Math and English. It costs $85 and books can be purchased cheaply from Amazon and even better this year practice tests and study aids are all free on Khan academy. My son applied through UCAS and was accepted straight in university based on his scores and was even offered full merit scholarships to universities in the US.

(More details on the page about US SATs for UK University entry)

L - Maths and Philosophy at Oxford University

L's mother writes: L was home-educated from birth, and without anyone to tell him otherwise, decided that maths was fun. Early home-ed involved structured maths and learning to read and write, but everything else was pretty relaxed and child-led. He took maths GCSE aged 12 because he wanted to show what he could do - he was fed up with kids in his sports classes saying "How will you ever get any GCSEs if you don't go to school?". He got an A* for that, enjoyed the exam process, and went on to take a total of 9 spread over 4 years, all at A* and A grades, plus a couple of vocational IT qualifications. Because the workload was spread out, there was still plenty of time for other interests; generally he spent about 2 hours a day studying, though more in the exam season. He'd focus on a couple of subjects a year, generally, take the exams, then move on to different subjects.

The plan was that L would go to sixth form or college for A-levels, because they're hard work to do from home, and it seemed like a useful step to gain experience of the wider world before uni. We started going round sixth form open evenings well in advance so we could adjust plans if necessary. Had lots of nice chats with tutors about home-ed; at every college, I asked if having GCSEs spread out would be a problem, and generally tutors looked bemused and asked why on earth anyone would think that. They were all just very positive about having a student who was interested in his subject, and having someone who'd actually got a few GCSEs already. Some asked how he'd kept his maths up since taking the GCSE and he explained he was working through other material. Some asked how he'd cope studying with lots of children, and we talked about various group activities he was involved in. L was going to take his maths A-levels from home-ed as he felt he could easily self-teach, but having worked through much of the material, he decided not to take the exams but to save that for sixth form, on the basis that he'd want to be studying his favourite subjects there. All the sixth forms would want him to take 4 A-levels, even if he already had some.

L got into a maths specialist sixth form to do A-levels. Being in an institution did take quite a lot of adjustment and he found it tiring, but he feels it's better to have gone through that adjustment now, than at uni. A lot of school seemed inefficient and petty, and he could have taught himself the course, but he did find the structure helpful - and he made friends with similar interests. L's UCAS personal statement started off by saying that he was home-educated until age 16. He was called to interview at Oxford and was interviewed by several colleges, and not one interviewer mentioned the home-ed background! He received an offer from his first choice college to start in 2016. I was disappointed that nobody asked him about home-ed, but pleased that a childhood with much time spent up trees, playing in mud, and having lightsaber battles at home-ed group, had apparently not completely ruined his life!

L's GCSE results will, on average, be lower than those of most Oxford applicants, but the entrance exams taken at the the start of the application process allow you a chance to show what you can do irrespective of that. This may be one reason why Oxford has quite a few former home-educated students. Cambridge is moving to a similar system from 2016 applications. The unis and courses with independent admissions tests like this may be more approachable for students who have an unusual background, and whose GCSE results don't necessarily reflect their potential.

Melissa - English at Oxford University

Hi! My name is Melissa and I recently completed an English degree at Oxford University. My parents chose to home educate their children before I was born, and they followed through with this plan with me until I was 16 and decided to go to school to complete my A Levels. This meant that I had the experience of taking my GCSEs from home. I took my GCSEs in a range of ways: some I completed through distance learning courses, provided by companies such as Oxford Open Learning. This route required a large amount of self-motivation and structuring of my own learning timetable, since I wanted some autonomy over my own learning and wouldn’t let my dad write up a plan for me! I found this a difficult process at first but developed so much through it as I learnt how to manage my own learning.

For other GCSEs, for example the two English and an RE one, I was part different groups of HE students led by a tutor or parent. This was helpful for those subjects which benefit from an opportunity to discuss ideas. In total I took seven subjects: English language, English literature, maths, history, combined sciences, law and religious studies. It took me two years to study for these, but each individual course I took over one year, studying three in one year and four in the next. Although this number is well below the amount of subjects most students take in schools, I had no problem being admitted for Sixth-Form teaching. I applied to three different schools and was offered a place at each. In retrospect, however, I would have been able to manage the workload of more subjects and in some ways regret having not taken more. I ended up taking the exams over the two years in which I would have taken them in school, but I think I would have been capable of taking one or two before then, and do to some extent regret not doing so. This feeling, though, is merely personal, and not based upon any problems I have faced through having only 7 to my name. Having more would have been merely a matter of personal development and broader learning. 

My advice, then, when approaching the choice of how many GCSEs to take and when: consider what GCSEs are required for your next steps, and also what you might enjoy and benefit from, but overall don’t worry if you fail to match the 10+ GCSEs taken in school. The experience of studying for these exams in a HE environment, where learning can avoid the spoon-feeding tendencies of school, should mean that you will get far more out of your GCSE experience than most school pupils do, despite taking less. I certainly found that the transition to A levels, where more independent thinking is asked of you, was far easier for me than for most of my contemporaries at school. So just keep developing that independent learning and independence of mind, and the GCSEs are just an added bonus!

hope that helps, Melissa

Melissa doesn’t say, but she actually got a First Class degree!

J- Theology at Aberdeen

J's mother is a veteran home-educator and a member of the HE Exams group.

My son, J, sat 8 exams between the age of 14 and 16 over 3 exam sessions. 6 were IGCSEs, 1 was a GCSE and the other was an O Level. (Drama, Art and Design, Chemistry, Biology, Physics, English Language, Maths and Religious Studies.) He went to FE college to study 4 subjects: Art, English Literature, Psychology and Philosophy and Ethics at A Level. After AS, he dropped Art, as it was more time-consuming than the other 3 put together.

J applied for 3 universities and had conditional offers from all 3: Kings College London, St Andrew’s and Aberdeen University for a degree in Theology. He made a point of mentioning his HE experience in his Personal Statement and how well it had prepared him for individual study. 

Because of the reputation of Aberdeen’s Theology dept for the type of work he wants to do, that was his first choice. He achieved a First, having been given several awards for academic excellence and bursaries during the 4 year degree.

Barney - Science at Oxford - Dyslexic & first in his family to go to uni

Barney's family are members of an active local home-ed group and this story was told by his mother in 2014 - many thanks for letting us share it.

Barney took a range of 9 GCSEs/IGCSEs from the age of 13 – 16. He applied to three grammar schools to take A levels and got offers from all three. He took maths, further maths, further additional maths, chemistry, physics and music tech AS for ‘enrichment’. He then applied to Sheffield, Loughborough, Birmingham, Imperial and Oxford and got offers from all. None of them mentioned GCSEs. He did write about home-ed in his personal statement and it was a topic of interest in his interviews. He is now in his second year reading materials science at Corpus Christi College, Oxford. 

BACKGROUND – Barney was home-educated until he was sixteen. Home ed days were a mix of structured/unstructured days depending on how panicked I felt about the amount of learning I felt was happening and how much time hadbeen spent on the X-BOX. Barney was a late reader (9- 10yrs) and we eventually got a diagnosis of dyslexia to get extra time for exams. He loved science and would spend time ‘testing’ (burning, melting and exploding) all sorts of different metals and materials, which is mainly what he does at uni now.  He used school as a stepping stone to uni but found it quite boring and restrictive. (Explosions are frowned upon in school, apparently, and the stink bombs didn’t go down too well either – oops.) 

Barney’s younger sister is at the local girls’ grammar school taking A levels. She also spread her IGCSEs/GCSEs over a number of years (12 -16yrs) and had offers from all three grammars she applied to with no questions asked. I’ll post an update when we get to the uni applications stage later this year. 

My husband and I do not come from an academic background and Barney is the first person in our family to go to uni. When my two were younger I heard stories of home-schooled kids going to uni and always thought it was because their parents were lawyers, doctors, teachers, etc. We did worry that Oxford was not the right place (we didn’t want him to have to struggle to keep up) but I think the interview process is quite good at working out who is suitable and who is not. His GCSE results were decidedly average (no, you don’t need 8A*s at GCSE to get in) but his A levels were better (he had to get the minimum A*AA but they recommended he carry on with 5 A levels). He has just been put forward for a scholar’s award for outstanding academic achievement in his exams and the tutors at Corpus have said they are very excited by the unconventional way he thinks. We can probably stop worrying about him now.

Update: Barney got a First and went on to finish an MA at Oxford, too.

Maths and Music at Edinburgh

A mother writes: Our son (20yo) has always been educated at home throughout his IGCSE and A-levels and having finished school in 2014 he is now starting at the University of Edinburgh.

Over a number of years he collected 5 IGCSEs (Maths, English, German, Physics and Chemistry). He also passed ABRSM grade 8 piano exam (with distinction) and grade 5 music theory (distinction), in addition to his Trinity Guildhall advanced piano exam (with distinction); he had private piano and music theory lessons since 2006.

In A-levels he achieved grade A in Mathematics, B in Further Mathematics and A in Physics. His A2 exams were all in one sitting (in 2014). Not knowing better, he spread his AS exams over two years (2012 and January 2013), although the bulk of them were done in one sitting in June 2013. The spread seemingly was not a problem, although the admission office picked it up in discussions with us when attending the open days.

As we live in Scotland, Physics practical exams were kindly arranged by the Merchiston College in Edinburgh at a very low cost (we only got the practical exams, not any tuition). We used Basil Patterson College for some exams, but most of them were sat at Merchiston (again at a very low cost).

On the basis of his grades, he has just been offered a place at the University of Edinburgh, to study Mathematics and Music (his preferred choice!). Interestingly, his achieved grades were lower than the conditions specified in the offer (AAA plus pass in grade 8 piano). We do not know why they decided to waive their standard offer, but he certainly was not disadvantaged because of his homeschooling. To the contrary, I think it played to his advantage showing his maturity and ability to learn independently.

3 Daughters

Here's our experience of taking GCSE and moving onwards.

Dd1. GCSE English lit, GCSE geography. 1999, grade B and D.

IGCSE English language 2000. Grade B. Subsequently went to FE college to do 3 Alevels. Passed with B,C,C. Offered places at Swansea and Cardiff universities, but went onto voluntary work. Gained office experience and was eventually employed in NHS admin. Now stay at home mother planning home educating her twins.

Dd2. GCSE French, GCSE childcare. Grades C, C. 2002. GCSE maths maths grade C. IGCSE English Lang. Grade B 2003. 

Went onto FE college to to diploma in childcare and early years. Worked as nanny abroad for a year. Accepted on to child physiology course at Newman university Birmingham, Graduated with a first. Then went to do MA in social work at Nottingham uni ( a Russell group uni)

Dd4 O level English language 2007 grade B. GCSE biology grade B, GCSE maths grade C. GCSE history grade B 2008. Psychology correspondence course level 3. Pass. 2009. Accepted onto 5 A levels at local FE college.  Dropped general studies at AS. Passed 4 all grade B. 

Accepted onto MA course at the university of Edinburgh (Russell Group uni). Had to appeal a decision to deny her a place based on no foreign language. College wrote a 'letter of special consideration' stating the reason of home education for not having the normal opportunity to do a foreign language at GCSE. Edinburgh reconsidered and offered her the place, where she is currently studying English language and history. And has finished her second year this week.!

MH : 2 daughters at Oxbridge

dd1 2 CIE IGCSEs summer 2002, 6 CIE IGCSEs summer 2003 then 6th form A levels 2005. Offer of a place at Oxbridge.  

dd2 3 I/GSCEs summer 2007, 5 I/GCSEs summer 2008 (at 17 because of ill-health) then 6th form for AS and (after a delay for continuing ill-health, A levels). So A levels were over 2 years 1 term. Accepted for interview at Oxbridge after taking their entrance exam. Between them applied to 10 universities and were accepted by 9

CP : Law at King's College, London, with 3 GCSEs plus BTec

We followed an American curriculum for 5 years. C had decided he wanted to go to college, so we started to look at GCSEs. By now we had realised the ACE curriculum we had been using was not recognised in the UK. (My(older) daughter had gone to college (Beauty Therapy) without GCSEs armed with only the 'invisible' ACE qualification, and a portfolio. In essence she had NO GCSEs, yet she became their top student. They wanted her to go to Uni but she decided to go and work for the Sanctuary,(Covent garden) instead.. She now works for a company as an Administrator.) Back to C. So along with his 2 brothers,we decided to do just 3 GCSEs  -English, Maths and Science, in 8 months simply to get a foot in the door. He gained 2Cs and a B then went on to college to do the L3 BTEC business course. He got 18 distinction*s which was the equivalent of 3 distinction*s or 3 A*s at A-level. He applied to study LAW at 5 universities, Kings college, Queens college, Redding, Hertfordshire and Brunel. He was accepted by 3- Kings, Redding and Herts. Brunel wrote him saying he would have been accepted if he had 5 GCSEs. (I think the minimum GCSEs one is expected to have is 5), However,they were the only University to mention GCSEs at all. C wasn't bothered by that as he didn't really want to go to Brunel anyway. His first choice was Kings College and he accepted that offer.

Student NG - Liberal Arts at Exeter, 2013

Student_NG's full story is on a separate page. "She was home-educated until age 16, when she took A-levels at sixth form. In terms of her university application process there was never any query or hesitation about her GCSEs, which, while solid, are not sparkling or extraordinary and were spread over 3 years. She was offered places to read Psychology at Sheffield, Bath, Exeter and Nottingham (AAA to AAB) but in the end chose Liberal Arts at Exeter (AAA) which she loves."

ZM - offer from Cambridge to study Medicine in 2014

(Post from his mother to HE Exams, reproduced with her permission)

I am delighted to tell you that Z has received an offer from Downing College, Cambridge to study Medicine. He was home schooled from age 4 - 16, and did 10 I/GCSEs, spread over 4 years, yes 4 years.

He did Maths and Further Maths A-levels at home spread over 3 years, and got A* in both. He went to school at 16, and is finishing up A levels in Physics Chemistry and Biology (the Maths at home overlapped with this but was finished by the end of Lower Sixth). Many colleges at Cambridge said that they would require A*AA in the three sciences, but Downing indicated otherwise.  And, indeed, they made an offer including both Maths,  so in reality, as long as he gets 65% in his Chemistry in the summer, that's him in. (He got 95% in AS)

Very, very thankful to God, and exhausted!

So don't be told that you HAVE to take the whole lot at once! However, Cambridge looks at the whole picture, whilst other Unis take a blinkered view of "you must do it our way".   I couldn't have done 10 at once, or even over 2 years.  I was absolutely certain that this was the path God had led us down, and all the Glory is His.

We sent Z to school mostly to get him used to being out of the house for some of the day before moving for Uni.  It has served that purpose, but it has been a horrible experience.  He was bored, ignored and generally miserable.  Despite it being one of the best schools in the area, most youngsters want to do as little work as possible, and do not appreciate Z asking intelligent questions and wanting to do the best he can (or the fact that he knows much more than they do and has come top or second in every subject.). We wish we had sent him to a college type environment instead.  If you send your child to sixth form - don't expect the teachers to actually teach - they do too much paperwork and crowd control for that.  He will still have to self-educate to do well!

M - offer from Cambridge to study Modern Languages in 2014

M was autonomously home-educated; she took 4 GCSEs as an independent candidate, and 1 at evening class at college, and an open university course in French, then went to sixth form college at 16 where she gained 3 A levels, 1 A/S and an EPQ. She received an offer from Queens' College, Cambridge, to study French and Spanish, and is currently studying there. There is a lovely Yorkshire Post article about her family which discusses their approach to education. It also mentions her older brother, C, who was autonomously home educated, took one GCSE from home, then went to college at 14 and took GCSEs and A levels in tandem, at 17 started a degree in Biology at Sheffield university, and then at 21 a PhD in Biomedical Sciences at Manchester.

Student F: Offer from King's College, Cambridge to study Maths in 2014

Student F was home-educated until sixth form.  He took 8 GCSEs spread over several years and then attended a Further Education college to take A-levels.  He has an offer to study maths.  At interview, the tutors were interested in asking about his home education.

Student G: Offer from King's College, Cambridge, to study Maths and Computing in 2014

Student G took 5 GCSEs from home-ed before attending sixth form, and has an offer to study Maths and Computing. 

Andrew P - Offer from Oxford to study Classics in 2014

(Andrew's mother's post to HE-Exams is copied here, with her kind permission)

Our son received an offer from Oxford to study Classics. We are thrilled for him.

So below I have posted the ongoing story of my son (now 19) moving from home-ed. to A levels at sixth form, to applying to university. The first two sections below are emails I posted previously, and the third is the latest update.  I hope that it will be an encouragement to those families who are concerned that the lack of GCSEs will affect their son's/daughter's entry to sixth form and university.

March 2012 - Applying to Sixth Forms

A note of encouragement amidst the exam work! Our eldest (nearly 17) went for an interview last week at a local sixth form college. The college is well respected locally, and it is large and very inclusive. Having said that they had ten pupils go to Oxbridge this year. Usual entrance requirements 5 GCSE's grade C and above.

Our son has never attended school.

He has the following qualifications English IGCSE A* (June 2010), Maths IGCSE A* (June 2011), Bible Knowledge O' Level A* (June 2011), ECDL Extra, Piano Grade 5, Violin Grade 5, Music theory Grade 5.

He is continuing with piano and violin exams and is taking an OU Latin course (30 points) this summer.

During the interview he was asked if he intended to take more exams this year. He said he was widening his horizons instead.

He belongs to a youth orchestra, is a volunteer computer buddy at our local library, is continuing to run  [his own website], is attending an adult ed. photography course, is involved at our church 

including preaching, and doing work experience etc.

They gave him an unconditional, written offer on the spot and said they could see he was "a well rounded young man." The offer is open until August. Our son asked to sit in on some lessons, which they are happy to do.

He is now waiting for another interview at a smaller sixth form at a local school, and then wants to choose between the two environments.

We're not sharing this to boast (although we are very proud of him :-) Just to say we chose to home-ed because we wanted to offer our children something broader than a school curriculum, and it is encouraging to see that our son can move on how he chooses, even without a full clutch of GCSEs.

November  2012

Here is an update to our son's story.

He chose the second school mentioned at the end of the e-mail above. Having sat in on lessons he decided he liked the enthusiasm and obvious commitment of the staff at our local Roman Catholic/Anglican school. There are about 80 young people in his year group so relatively small. He was again offered an unconditional place to join the sixth form.

Last summer (following the e-mail above) he took his Grade 6 Piano, Grade 6 Violin, and OU Latin - he achieved distinctions in them all. But he never did have '5 GCSEs' which is officially their minimum standard.  (editor's emphasis)

He is now studying A levels in History, English Literature and Business Studies at school, Latin A level with a tutor at home, piano and violin both grade 7, attending Youth Orchestra on Saturdays, and involved in our church. 

He is very busy and it as a bit of a juggling act, but he is very committed.

We recently went to a first parents evening and met his form tutor. As we sat down his tutor said "I'm impressed..." and then went on to say

(i) he is "very courageous" - he had volunteered and led a tutor group 

"reflexion time" and planned and led a tutor group quiz

(ii) he is socially "very open" - I assume this means he is willing to talk 

to people!

(iii) he is involved in all his lessons, and hands his home work in on time

(iv) he is an independent learner and very mature

(v) he is making the most of every opportunity on offer

(vi) he is enthusiastic

(vii) he is coping well socially

Our son is a naturally academic, enthusiastic, committed young man. We knew his last year at home he did not need more qualifications. He did need more life experiences - he is not and will never be street-wise. So each week he 

took the bus to his adult ed. photography class - and phoned us the day he got on the wrong bus in the pouring rain and found himself quite a way from home. He taught computer skills as a volunteer at the library and got some private, paid work as an outcome. He did some work experience and spent time with a variety of different people. He went away last summer to Austria with his youth orchestra which included a 24 hour coach trip and was travel sick on the way home! These are the types of experiences he needed to grow, not more GCSEs.

So what does he think of sixth form? He has fitted in well and made a wide group of friends/acquaintances. He enjoys the studies and opportunities to join things like an impromptu choir and the Christian Union. However, he doesn't understand why many of the sixth form pupils talk in lessons/ use mobile phones/ don't do their homework etc. He says, they don't have to be 

there so if they aren't interested, why are they? He has had a few difficult moments socially which he finds uncomfortable at the time, but can walk away from unbothered. In fact he laughs at the criticisms he has heard over the years about home-ed children's chances of developing social skills.

I can only say how glad we are to have home educated our children and we are so pleased we had the opportunity. If our son applies to university we are willing to take the chance that not having 10+ GCSEs is unusual and might affect his chances. We hope that in some universities there are adults so enthusiastic and committed to young people, that they will carry on reading 

his application form and be willing to meet him at an interview. Maybe, this is very idealistic but I'm willing to stick my neck out... after all isn't that what home education is partly about... a willingness to think and be different! Our son wouldn't swap it either.

January 2014

Our son is now in his second year of A levels. Last summer he took AS exams in Business Studies (A, UMS 100%),  English Lit. (A, UMS 97%), History (A, UMS 100%), Latin (A, UMS 98.5%). He also took violin and piano grade 7's and gained distinction in both.

He has applied to university and has these offers:

  • King's College London - Classics - AAB
  • University College London - Ancient Languages - AAB
  • Exeter - Classics - AAA
  • Oxford (St. John's) - AAA
  • Durham - AAA

He has not yet decided which offer he will be accepting.

He did receive an e-mail from UCL asking if he had omitted some qualifications from his UCAS form (because he had so few GCSEs). However, because he had been in touch with a tutor at UCL prior to sending in his application he managed to sort out the problems (they require a modern language GCSE which he does not have and he demonstrated by email that he had five qualifications equivalent to GCSE. ) It was well worth while having already been in touch.

And during the Oxford interview process (he was there for a whole week) no mention was made of his unorthodox background or lack of qualifications.

Hope this is an encouragement to those who are moving on from home education.

Fiona P

Rachel D - English offer from Cambridge for 2015

(Rachel's mother's post to HE-Exams is copied here, with her kind permission)

Our dd has an offer to read English Lit at Girton College, Cambridge. (It is a deferred entry for 2015 as she has a voluntary work placement planned for next year - for this subject there did not seem to be any problem with deferring entry) 

Needs to get A*/A/A - but no subject specified for the A*  ( just got to get the grades this summer now - not quite home yet!)

( She is taking A levels in Eng Lit, Biology and History. She only did these 3 at AS....she did her second Spanish course from home during first year sixth....) 

Some background for info/ encouragement:

Pretty ordinary family of 3 children and 2 parents, living in a very ordinary part of the Midlands and not wealthy by any stretch ( although very grateful for what we have ).

The qualifications she applied with were these listed. They were taken over 4 years, with a maximum of 2 subjects in any one sitting. No questions were asked about this by Cambridge or the other 4 Uni's from whom she got offers.

She spent 4 months in hospital in her 13 th year when she took her first exam....ended up having to have the exam supervised in the hospital school! Apart from that study for the RE she did virtually no  study for around 9 months that year, mainly sleeping, sitting in garden and some light reading and TV watching.

RE 'O' level - grade A.    

IGCSE English Language ( CIE) grade A*

IGCSE Biology (CIE) grade A

GCSE Maths (OCR) grade B

GCSE History (OCR) grade B

IGCSE Chemistry ( CIE) grade A

IGCSE Latin(CIE)  grade B

Open University Beginners' Spanish ( 30 point course) PASS  with72%

Grade 8 music ( Recorder) and Grade 5 Music Theory.

( she did not do IGCSE English Lit....she thought it looked too boring. Instead she followed a course called " Survey of British Literature" from the US curriculum SonLight. There was no tutoring or marking...just a course which she tweaked with the help of the Internet to provide more British style essay tasks. She made a portfolio but neither 6 th form nor Cambridge asked to see it.)

( Also Open University Intermediate Spanish ( 30 point course)  PASS which with previous course makes a Certificate of Higher Education in Spanish - result came through after Uni application went in) 

Until she was about 14 our home education was fairly eclectic....not " autonomous" but not very formal. Younger siblings around, trips out, projects, lots of art, nature stuff, allotment,home ed groups of all sorts (e.g. Science club with one other family, informal acting/ play making group )

What we did do was  A LOT of reading...reading aloud and individual reading and TALKING. To be honest the more I look at it the greater I feel the impact of this has been....just the breadth of background knowledge on so many things..and also seemingly much " better read" than most of her school peers.

We tried not to let the exam syllabus thing narrow stuff too much but there is a sort of inevitable realisation that in the end if you are going to do exams you do have to " play the game" and get on with it. 

She was keen to go to 6 th form. Had no trouble getting into our local school 6 th form ( except they would not let her do AS Spanish without GCSE) and has enjoyed the social / interactive aspect of lessons,  especially in English and History. And most of the time she has managed to hold onto a sense of perspective ( school tends to make everything the " be all and end all" all the time) and to keep a sense of personal control over her learning . ( She politely told her biology teacher that she was NOT doing a poster about a topic as it was a waste of time and not her best way of learning stuff!) 

When we started out as Home Edders in 2000 she was just a little girl who I thought could stay at home with her little brother until she was 7 and would go into junior school, since we were having such a nice time and I didn't like the look of the early years national curriculum. We didn't have a grand plan... And even when we had all 3 children and were in " long term" mode for Home Ed we didn't have any great goals other than to give a good grounding in basics and enjoy a lot of stuff together and follow interests and aptitudes as the children matured. This is where it has led dd1. DS will be  a different direction ...and dd2 different again.....exhausting....interesting....exciting...!

Hope this is an encouragement to those of you starting out....

Jonathan, studying Engineering at Cambridge University 2013

(Summary provided by Jonathan's mother)

Here's a quick history of Jonathan's journey to Cambridge:

2009: IGCSEs in Maths (A*), Geography (A*) and O level in RS (A)

2010: IGCSEs in Physics (A*), Business Studies (B) and ECDL

2011: IGCSEs in ICT (A*), French (A), Accounting (A*) and English Language (A*)

He also took grade 5 practical and theory at some point previous to these exams (distinction).

2013: A levels in Physics (A*), Maths (A), ICT (A) and Business Studies (A).

He applied generally to Cambridge to read Engineering. He turned down the first interview due to a driving test but was offered another. There were two interviews, no testing. The offer was the standard offer of A*, A, A with the A* having to be in either Maths or Physics.

His early exams were never referred to and his home ed. history was just passed over briefly at interview. His A levels, however, were done from college, not home.

Hope that is useful to someone. The following link is from the university's own web page with interesting facts about their requirements. Regardless of what anyone else says, these are the facts as they stand to date.

Cambridge Requirements - The Facts

Anon I, studying Maths at Oxford 2013

(Details provided by his mother)

Currently studying Maths at Oxford University (entry 2013) after being home educated until entering sixth for A-levels.

5 GCSEs/IGCSES, spread out over 2 years: maths (A*),Eng lang (A*),  biology (A*) , physics (A*), history (B),

At sixth form he took A levels in 

Maths (A*) , Further maths (A*), physics (A*)  biology (A).   

At the time of his interview he already had A* maths as you take that at the end of year 13 at his sixth form, and his offer was for a further A*AA.

Anonymous C - home-educated to age 13

His mother writes:

My son received an offer to study at Oxford today.  He was home educated in China and Scotland from age 6 - 13, taking three GCSEs early, then went to school at 13 to take GCSEs and then the IB.  He put his home education into the first paragraph of his UCAS personal statement and he has had offers from all five of the universities he applied to - Oxford, Durham, York, Warwick and Exeter.

I initially home educated him because he was a bright child with very delayed motor skills.  I was able to keep him engaged with oral work whilst working on his handwriting/typing.  He still has accommodations for exams, but it has all come together really well.

I hope that this is encouraging to other home educators.

Fred Bettles-Lake

Fred was autonomously educated and was a late reader.  He took 4 or 5 GCSEs part-time while home-educated via a scheme at a local adult education college, and then went on to sixth form college at City and Islington College.  He had to retake some GCSEs in order to get in to sixth form.  Here's his mother's comments:

'Fred is at UEA doing the Eng Lit and Creative Writing Degree which he is loving. He is working extraordinarily hard. I think his story bears repeating to anxious home-ed parents. Aged 10 he could not read and write at all and was pretty shaky 11-12 and at 13/14/15/ read and wrote next to nothing. He didn't do brilliantly in his GCSEs, possibly because he thought they were boring, but then got 4 As at AS and 2 As and an A* at A2 when his motivation was very high. '

(The Creative Writing and English Literature course at University of East Anglia is very competitive and the standard requirement is 3 A-grades at A-level to get in, plus students have to submit a portfolio of their creative writing. )

Anonymous 2.

(provided by his mother)

Came out of school at 7

Completed Grade 5 French Horn and Grade 5 Music Theory and studied various subjects at home. Won a London Film competition aged 12 (in age 12-21 category).

Was accepted into FE college at 16 (this was an academic year early i.e. GCSE year) to study four GCSEs in one year (English, Maths, Double Science - AAAA). Stayed to study A-levels in Maths, English, Physics and Chemistry. Re-sat last year to improve grades (final grades - CDCC).

Went to study Aeronautical Engineering at Sheffield Hallam (met offer). Was also accepted at Bristol, Liverpool, Manchester and Manchester Metropolitan with typical offer of ABB –BBB. At the end of the first year changed course to study Animation.

Anonymous 3.

(provided by her mother)

Came out of school at 8/9

Studied various subjects at home including French, Maths, English but elected to take only one GCSE by correspondence course in Biology (A) aged 14, Piano Grade 5 and Music Theory Grade 5.

Was accepted into FE college after taking competence tests in Maths and English (computer based testing). 

Took GCSE English (A*), and A levels in Biology (A), Maths (B), Physics (B), Chemistry (A), and AS English (B) over three years. Grade 8 piano also completed at this time.

Went to study Biology at UCL (also accepted at Imperial and UEA – rejected by Exeter). Specialised in Second year in Zoology. Began tutoring HE students in Biology, Maths and Chemistry (to AS Level). Left after second year because the learning environment presented some problems (a very big course, very impersonal environment and little student support) but has transferable credits that may be used later.

Now studying Literature at Canterbury, while also Studying for level 1 piano diploma, tutoring (to A-level) in Biology, Maths and Chemistry, working part time in a cafe and illustrating a book for a Children’s author.

Alex Dowty

Karen Luckhurst talked to Alex Dowty about how he got to study law at Oxford University.

Open University

J and K - one family's experience

K - studying law at Exeter

K came back from a six-month exchange with a German family (with no prior formal study of the language) and we decided that GCSE German would be pointlessly easy. We therefore looked at the Open University (OU) German courses and she started Auftakt: intermediate German (L130) at 14 years and 10 months. She went on to do Exploring the English language (U211) (at 15.5 years) and Open mathematics (MU120, now discontinued) at 16.5 years. She studied Understanding society (Y157, now discontinued) while waiting to start The arts past and present (AA100).

K applied to bricks-n-mortar universities to study law with German on the basis of having gained 130 OU points and while studying for another 60 Level 1 points. She was offered a place at Exeter University conditional on gaining at least 70% in AA100. She achieved the conditions of the offer and is studying LLB European (German)/Magister. A typical offer for this course is AAA or AAB at A level, including an A in German. The student also receives a telephone interview in German.

The OU awarded her a Certificate of Higher Education Open for  120 points of Level 1 study (L130, MU120 and AA100). Many universities will accept this as an alternative to A levels to prove that the student has met basic university entrance requirements (some courses, of course, have specific requirements).

The initial OU admissions process involved being sent a self-assessment pack for German. K worked through it and the results indicated that her German was at an appropriate level for L130. We sent those results (with covering letters from K's mother and from K explaining why she wanted to do the course) to the Staff Tutor who deals with young applicants and she OKed it. U211 has been the most difficult course for K. As a level 2 English course, it required a maturity of writing that she had not fully attained at 15.5 years. She did OK in the continuous assessment (scoring over 70%) but the exam was difficult. It was the first exam she had ever done and she only scored 43% (she had also been in circumstances that made it difficult to do specific exam practice).

J - studying with OU under 18

While K was doing U211, J (13.5 years) decided he'd like to do Life of Mammals (S182, now discontinued). In the last week of registration, we realised it was the last presentation and so we phoned up in a hurry to book him on it. He did the online self-tests for science and sent the results with covering letters to the Staff Tutor. Most science short courses can be completed over two or five months, to suit the student. J took 20 weeks over S182 because he had other things to do (including a trip to Tokyo with our EHE robotics team) in the first two months. At 14 years' old, he did Fossils and the history of life (S193) in 10 weeks; at 14.25 years, he did Planets: an introduction (S196) over 20 weeks; at 14.5 years, he did Molecules, medicines and drugs: a chemical story (SK185) over 20 weeks; and, at 15 years' old, he completed Elements of forensic science (S187) in 10 weeks. He then studied Open mathematics (MU120, now discontinued). At almost 16 years' old, he took  Life in the oceans (S180, now discontinued) to complete a Certificate in Contemporary Science. In order to gain experience in essay-writing and to widen his formal education to include the humanities, he decided to take The arts past and present (AA100). He could not start that until February 2011, so he filled in with Digital worlds: designing games, creating alternative realities (T151). He does not know what he will do when he reaches 18 but he expects to have gained 160 points within 6 weeks of his 17th birthday.

General remarks about OU study under 18

Because the science short courses are about factual writing, they tend to be easier for younger people than courses that require discursive and opinionated writing. S193 is an excellent starter course as the assignment is a set of 26 multiple-choice questions. J enjoyed S182 but the assignment was more difficult, requiring a fair bit of writing (the max was 500 words in one essay). 

Both K and J found MU120 quite easy but also interesting – rather than being arranged as a set of mathematical facts presented in order, it is arranged by topic (prices, earnings, health, music, art, maps, motion and rainbows) and mathematical ideas are pointed up in those areas. For example, the maps unit discusses coordinate systems, contours and converting from 2D representations to 3D physical space. It has been replaced by Discovering mathematics (MU123).

We have to book courses by phone because under-18s cannot book online but we have had no problems – the Staff Tutor has had to OK each booking and she has done so almost without quibble (in fact, she phoned before J started his second course to say how happy she was that K and J were succeeding and that the OU were happy for us to continue in this vein). The only time we have had hassle is when J wanted to start S187 in September (with a view to completing it in 10 weeks) and MU120 in October. The Staff Tutor was concerned that it would be too much to study S187 at the same time as starting his first 30-point course. However, I stood my ground because I knew that MU120 started very gently. In the event, he finished S187 on time and scored 98% for the first CMA and 39/40 for the first TMA in MU120.


G - Successful employment with ASD

Submitted by G's mother

G started school at 5 and left 2 terms later. She wasn’t coping and was desperately unhappy. She thrived being home educated and was happy joining in with home ed groups and activities.

At 15, she was assessed as having High Functioning Autism and a Borderline IQ. We decided that traditional exams weren’t appropriate for her. At 17, she went to FE College, to a specialist ASD unit, where she did some Functional Skills certificates in Literacy, Numeracy and ICT, alongside Life-Skills and generally learning how to live with being an autistic adult. She enjoyed that time a lot.

She then moved on to another FE college which offered Child Care (CACHE) courses. She was there for 3 years and did work placements and voluntary work in nurseries and schools during the courses. She achieved the Award for Outstanding Progress one year and the Award for Outstanding Achievement another year. She finally achieved Level 2 (GCSE level equivalent) at the age of 22. She was thrilled, as this meant that she now had a ‘licence to practice’ and could work in a nursery.

She received help from a Shaw Trust Disability Employment Advisor to apply for jobs and prepare for interviews. Unfortunately, although she started off by stating the name of her disability in her application forms, as requested in the forms, she did not get a single interview until she stopped doing so. The first time she sent an application form off without mentioning her autism, she got an interview. Her advisor went with her and explained how her condition affected her and about the reasonable adjustments in her working practice which would need to be made. Sadly, the way the work was structured in that particular nursery was not compatible with any disability and she left after 6 months.

G was only out of work for 2 weeks, though, and went straight into another nursery job which suited her much better. She has now, to date, been there for 2 years and is a valued and trusted member of staff. She does not have very much responsibility and only works 23 hours a week, but that is as much as she can manage in such a busy and exciting environment. The management staff are highly focused on developing their staff and she regularly attends training sessions in and outside the setting. She feels valued and appreciated. Because she only works part-time and has a disability, she is entitled to working tax credits.

The figures I’ve seen are that only 12% of adults with ASD of any kind are employed. I believe that the firm foundation of self-esteem, confidence, diligence and self-motivation which were fostered through home education are what has enabled G to beat the odds and be able to work. Unfortunately, few of her College peers are employed and this includes those girls in the Child Care courses who were not autistic. Our society is not good at finding places within it for those who are disadvantaged and vulnerable. Home education can provide a very positive alternative for children with SENs and ASD.

Other articles on HE case studies etc..

Alex Dowty (studying law at Oxford University)

Open University

Louis Barnett (entrepreneur)

Exam results achieved by home-educated young people. A few years' worth of examples from the HE Exams email group.

Views on exams from academics and home-educated young people- article by Karen Luckhurst